We are currently looking for a church to join as a new family heading towards our marriage and the start of our life together. This past Sunday, we visited one in our area for the first time and were appalled at the values and message being shared, and revered.
We happened to be in attendance when the national leader of this particular domination was visiting and delivering the service. The resident pastor introduced him and as he took the stage, his opening went something like this: “I must correct the introduction that I am at retirement age. Yes I am at that age but I am nowhere near retiring. However I do take full advantage of my age and always, without fail, use the seniors’ parking bays at the shopping mall. I haven’t got it right yet with disabled parking, but I am working on it. I am a little hard of hearing, and deafness qualifies as a disability, doesn’t it? You have to take advantage of your situation where you can!” Erupting with laughter and feeding on the reciprocation from his audience he continued his comedy act, making fun of other groups and cultures, and asking for ‘Amens’ to his jokes. I found his flippant attitude to be ignorant and insensitive, and not the type of behaviour an esteemed leader of a church should be modelling for his followers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for good entertainment, but he is not Trevor Noah, and when he is shepherding his sheep as how to respect others in society, this sense of entitlement and disregard for those really in need of a disabled or seniors bay doesn’t sit well with me.
“When ministry becomes performance, then the sanctuary becomes a theater, the congregation becomes an audience, worship becomes entertainment, and man’s applause and approval become the measure of success. But when ministry is for the glory of God, his presence moves into the sanctuary. Even the unsaved visitor will fall down on his face, worship God, and confess that God is among us.”
He then went on to speak about the 140-million Rand church they are currently building – “because all across the world there are these huge churches standing to glorify God and we also want one in our community.” Really? Spending 140-million Rand on a building is glorifying God? I wanted to stand up and tell him how wasteful that is. How many starving families in your community could you feed with that kind of money? How many of the disabled whom you mock could you help make the church more accessible for by funding equipment needed? How many sick people in your community could you support in their medical care? How about contributing towards saving forests and places of natural beauty to glorify God’s creation? In my humble opinion, God created mountains and oceans, forests and farmland – not R140-million Rand buildings. If we want to honour him, let’s honour the beauty he gave us to worship Him in. I have always felt a greater connection to my Creator in a forest than I ever have in a church building.
He also spoke of a family member who adopts a minimalist approach, who will only wear Pick ‘n Pay or Ackermans clothing and won’t own more than 39 items of clothing as we as humans are so wasteful. He then boasts “I, on the other hand, am not like her – I wear labels” as he opened out his jacket for all to see (and reward with more laughter). This is apparently testament to how God provides for him? I’m not quite sure what he aimed to achieve with that story.
During this service they took up three offerings, and while I understand being a ‘cheerful giver’ and blessing others and the true meaning of tithing, in this instance it served to reinforce the essence of this particular sermon:
- The usual tithing
- A separate offering, which was made certain was in addition to the regular tithing, towards the several million needed for the church renovations. There was a pledge form for contributions, and a block for those who couldn’t afford a financial contribution, to pledge something they would sell to be able to donate. Something they could not put a figure to until it was sold.
- At the end, a third offering was taken up for the above-mentioned national leader.
I honestly can’t say that I found any Bible teaching during that hour-and-a-half service or any message of value. The financial focus of the sermon drowned out any sense of community connection, any teaching of love, or reverence for God, not the preacher. Jesus didn’t have a huge church, he didn’t wear designer clothes or drive fancy cars. He went out into the world and did God’s work.
“A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.” C.H. Spurgeon.